American tennis greats John McEnroe and Chris Evert are both deadset against Saudi Arabian investment in the sport, after reports both the men’s and women’s tour are considering it.
Last weekend ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said the men’s tour had had “positive” discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund about a potential investment. There have also been reports in recent months that the ATP Next Gen Finals will be held in Jeddah later this year, and WTA CEO Steve Simon is also said to have held talks in the country earlier this year.
But tennis veterans McEnroe and Evert – who won seven and 18 major singles titles respectively during their careers – have both said it is not a good idea, with the former calling it a “comical” notion considering the divisive impact the PIF had on golf.
“I wouldn’t encourage it personally, the Saudi thing. I’m not surprised that tennis is being thrown into the mix after what we saw in golf,” McEnroe said. “I don’t think that’s something that we should be pursuing. It’s not in my hands.
“I don’t know why in the hell tennis would suddenly be; let’s talk to the Saudis after the debacle that you’re watching in golf. To me, it’s comical that it’s even being brought up right now.”
Evert added: “I think it’s sportswashing. I don’t think we need to go there.”
Last week world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz said he had “no doubt” he would eventually play in Saudi, while controversial Australian player Nick Kyrgios reacted to news about the ATP’s talks by tweeting, “FINALLY. THEY SEE THE VALUE. WE ARE GOING TO GET PAID WHAT WE DESERVE TO GET PAID. SIGN ME UP,” alongside money bag emojis.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray has categorically said he will not be tempted to play in Saudi Arabia, most recently reaffirming his view earlier this month. Many, like Evert, say the Kingdom’s sport investment is driven by a desire to clean up the country’s public image due to allegations of human rights abuses committed by its government.
Armed with endless funds, the Kingdom has made a huge play in recent years for different sports, including acquiring Newcastle United, enticing top footballers to the Saudi league, and causing a civil war within golf as they set up rival tour LIV Golf. The golfing row ended with the PGA folding under mounting pressure and forging a partnership with the Saudi investors, and McEnroe is wary of a similar fate befalling tennis, but admitted it seems inevitable.
“It looked to me like the PGA were total hypocrites when they cut a deal after they’ve been fighting [Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf], in my opinion,” said McEnroe. “At the same time, the people that are complaining about it, a lot of the people are hypocrites because our government does business with them along with tons of other hedge funds, wealth funds.
“Unfortunately, it’s like money talks, that’s all that matters. But I don’t think that’s all that matters. Eventually, you get bought out. It’s like, at some point, someone will offer too much.”